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From Faber & Faber's archive: Seamus Heaney's acceptance letter from 1965

Posted on 16th March 2016 by Sally Campbell, Rob Chilver & Hannah Marshall
In an exclusive piece for the Waterstones blog, Hannah Marshall, Faber Members Manager, elucidates the relationship between Faber and Heaney and shares the original letter, sent in 1965, in acceptance of his first volume of poetry, Death of a Naturalist.

Publishing Seamus - from first collection to posthumous translation

On the 15th June 1965 one of Faber & Faber’s publishing directors, Charles Monteith wrote to Seamus Heaney: ‘I am delighted to let you know that we all  liked Death of a Naturalist very much; and that we would certainly be happy to publish it.’ 

Although Monteith probably did not realise its significance at the time, this letter now marks the beginning of one of the most important relationships in Faber & Faber's history and for the young poet, then only 26-years-old and soon to be married, it also marks a major turning point in what would become a remarkable career in poetry.  

A copy of the letter Charles Monteith sent to Seamus Heaney on the 15th June 1965:


That there was a very special author-publisher bond between Heaney and ‘Fabers’ is evident from early correspondence between the Irish poet and Monteith. ‘Marie [Heaney, Seamus’s wife] was saying how Faber were to us more of a family than a firm’, Heaney wrote to his editor on the 7th April 1966. 

Two weeks later, on receipt of his author copies of Death of a Naturalist, he wrote again: ‘I just cannot quite realize that I am really on the Faber list. Nevertheless, it seems the time to thank you and everyone else at Russell Square for much encouragement and interest over the last eighteen months and I can only hope the reception it gets repays this in some small way.’

Death of a Naturalist is now regarded as a classic poetry collection, featuring some of Heaney’s most beloved poems, “Digging” and “Mid-Term Break” among them.

Faber & Faber would go on to be the proud publisher of Seamus Heaney for the next 47 years, publishing twelve collections of original poetry as well as several volumes of selected poetry, translation and prose writing. 

When Seamus Heaney died on the 30th August 2013 the world lost one of its greatest literary voices. He was an inspiration to many people - and his loss was felt profoundly by his readers and admirers.

Yet, unbeknown at the time, Heaney had left us a final gift: an unpublished but essentially finished translation of the sixth book of Virgil's Aeneid. He had been working on the text, on and off, for a number of years, having taken particular note of this part of the Aeneid after the death of his father in 1986.

In his translator's note, already written at the time of his death, Heaney describes the exercise as “classics homework” - an attempt to honour the memory of his old Latin teacher, Father Michael McGlinchey. However, if the poem he's left behind is homework then it would be marked A+ and then some and, as we add it to the canon of Heaney's great work, we can only wonder, with regret, what his letter to 'Fabers' would have said on its publication.

Hannah Marshall, Faber Members Manager 


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